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Merritt's uncle donates motorcycle for fund

John Merritt is honoring his niece with a rolling, roaring memorial. Merritt is selling a Harley-Davidson motorcycle he won late last year, with all proceeds going to a scholarship fund in memory of Kelsi Merritt. Kelsi, 18, a freshman track star...

John Merritt is honoring his niece with a rolling, roaring memorial.

Merritt is selling a Harley-Davidson motorcycle he won late last year, with all proceeds going to a scholarship fund in memory of Kelsi Merritt.

Kelsi, 18, a freshman track star at Minnesota State University Moorhead, died March 19 of encephalitis.

An endowment was established soon after her death to provide an annual $1,000 scholarship for an MSUM track athlete.

John Merritt's brother, Mike, was Kelsi's father.

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"Kelsi was the baby of my older brother's family," Meritt said in a telephone interview from his Twin Cities home. "She was just a really special kid."

Merritt works in public relations for Carmichael Lynch Advertising Agency, which has Harley-Davidson as a client. At an October all-agency meeting, he won a drawing for a 2002 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883.

He wasn't a motorcyclist, but after winning the bike he took motorcycle training and got a license. "Once I got the bike and started riding it, I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed it," he said.

He has put about 400 miles on it.

But his good luck at winning the bike was eclipsed by the family tragedy. Merritt wanted to find a way to memorialize the niece he loved.

"With the whole experience of everything that happened to Kelsi and how hard that was on her folks, (donating the bike) was something I could do to honor Kelsi's memory," he said. "Pretty quickly the idea came to me: I had this incredible good fortune to win this motorcycle, that would be an appropriate thing to do."

Merritt contacted MSUM officials and they in turn contacted Fargo Harley-Davidson Sales and Service in West Fargo to arrange the sale.

Merritt and his family will bring the bike here Friday. By happy coincidence, the dealership is having a previously planned open house Saturday that is expected to draw 2,000 people. The bike will be ready for display that day, said Todd Hofer, the business' owner.

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Merritt said the bike retails for $6,355. The Harley-Davidson dealership will take no commission on the sale, meaning every penny will go to the MSUM fund.

That fund has been a smashing success, already reaching more than $10,000, said Judy Peterson, MSUM's director of annual giving. It's one of the fastest-growing endowment funds in MSUM history, she said.

Hofer said once the bike is on the showroom floor, "we're just going to set a price on it and the first person that's interested in it will be able to purchase it." The exact price has not yet been set.

This is a good time to be selling the bike. "Everything that says Harley-Davidson on it is hotter than sin," Hofer said. The dealership has only five 2002 models left and most of the inventory for 2003 already is spoken for.

Merritt said he will miss the bike, but losing it means relatively little.

"Like I said, they're a lot of fun to ride and I really enjoyed it," he said. "But compared to how much I'll miss my niece -- there is no comparison. I was lucky to win the bike and be able to ride it for a few months there, but compared to not being able to see my niece grow up and all of that, there's no comparison."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

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